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I had just been weird, in a “she’s really bloody strange, we better keep away from her” way, more Stephen King’s than Carrie Bradshaw.When I was thirteen, I pissed in a crisp packet and then held it out to some girls who bullied me at school break time, waiting for them to put their hands in to try to get my crisps.
Young men are believed when they say they are autistic; young women are not, and are instead encouraged to embrace the role of a lovely eccentric, decorative and quirky rather than “disordered.” Francesca then told me something else: “When you were a child and first came to me, you could pick up some social signals, but the one you didn’t understand — couldn’t begin to understand — was anger.” Even then, the series of faces and postures I struggled with was someone getting angry — I just didn’t get it.
Rather than causing complete oblivion to anger, this created anxiety for me: “Are you angry with me now? As neurotypical folk can probably imagine, there is something rather scary about not being able to identify facial expressions, especially one as important as anger, and not being able to could easily lead one to a state of permanent anxiety.
Hearing this from Francesca was a relief; I realised it was something I knew but had denied for years, in favour of adopting the socially acceptable quirky image — think Zooey Deschanel as Jess in a mould which was a fairly good fit at times, even if it was also false.
Sometimes I feared the mask would slip, that I would be discovered, but I seldom was — although sometimes in conversation, someone would develop a puzzled look on their face.
My boyfriend called me “adorably awkward,” but in earlier years at school, my awkwardness had never been adorable.
Here he held out a chance to rewrite my past, to eradicate all the fucking awful weird things I had done, and to become something else — a quirky awkward girl who was adorable. The relationship was to disintegrate months later, with him shouting: “Why do you not get it, why can you not see when I am getting angry and need to be alone?
” and me in tears saying, “Sorry, I didn’t know, I just didn’t know.” “How the hell can you not know someone is getting angry? I had given him the answer months earlier, but he had chosen not to accept it. Through my early twenties I found that many guys would hone in on my “cute eccentricity,” my “beautiful weirdness,” and, yes, my “adorable awkwardness.” Autism didn’t come into it for them — I was not what people imagined when they heard the word.She loves longform journalism, to read something amazing and true makes her heart beat quicker, and suddenly she becomes excited about all the possibilities of life as a writer and begins to yearn to go out and find stories.She likes looking at community notice boards (actual ones, outside churches and village halls) and talking to random people.The language of the body, that which makes up an estimated 60% of communication, was almost closed to me.So instead I fell back on words — the safety of which I could understand, as their clarity left nothing to puzzle over or decipher.I am not proud of this, but I tell you because as an autistic thirteen-year-old it seemed an appropriate way of dealing with people being mean and calling me weird.